William Powell Country

RSPB ‘twisted data’ in a campaign against Grouse Shooting

Rural Matters

Article written by 24 March 2016

Independent scientists have reported that the RSPB have misrepresented scientific evidence in its campaign against grouse shooting.

In 2015 the RSPB put pressure on the government to take action on heather burning, which the RSPB named as a ‘damaging practice’. Heather burning is essential to provide young heather, on which grouse and sheep feed. The increased pressure stemmed from a research paper co-authored by one of its own scientists, who declared an overall increase in heather burning in the past 10 years. Since then, independent scientists have examined this evidence and concluded that the RSPB’s press releases relating to the research were “only passing resemblance to the key findings of the paper”.

Heather Burning

Heather Burning

The Royal Society is due to publish their report into this which suggests that accounts released by the RSPB were based on attitudes and perceptions rather than evidence on the level of heather burning. It was concluded by Scientists from the universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Swansea and other foreign institutions, that conservationists repeatedly seem to be unable to make unbiased interpretations of ecological management practices such as heather burning. The same report also suggests that heather burning can actually help plants to rejuvenate, protect landscapes and benefit endangered birds such as the Capercaillie. The report also stated that previous RSPB research had not mentioned the value of heather burning, therefore making this research biased.

The organisation ‘You Forgot The Birds’ lead by Sir Ian Botham who are shooting enthusiasts, and are judgemental of the RSPB stated “The Royal Society paper is an indication of how serious the problems are at the RSPB. The charity’s hatred of grouse shooting has become an obsession”. In defence, Martin Harper the Conservation Director of the RSPB said “in certain circumstances moorland burning can be a legitimate management practice, but scientific evidence from RSPB and from other sources shows that it must be used appropriately”. “Inappropriate burning on blanket peatland and protected areas can have an impact on the environment”.

In contrast, The Moorland Association said that “the costs involved in fighting large wildfires on moorland areas not managed for grouse shooting have collectively amounted to millions of pounds and are on the increase”. “With red grouse moor management, comes vegetation management through mowing and rotational burning and the risk of a severe wildfire is lower due to a reduced amount of vegetation available to burn”.

With thanks to:

  • Ben Webster, Environment Editor of The Times
  • The Royal Society
  • Sir Ian Botham, ‘You Forgot The Birds’
  • The Moorland Association

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